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Logan Center bolsters arts and architecture at U. of C.

Interior exterior shots new Logan Center for Arts designed by renowned architects Todd Williams Billie Tsien University Chicago campus. The

Interior and exterior shots of the new Logan Center for the Arts, designed by renowned architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, on the University of Chicago campus. The center opens officially Oct. 12-14, with a three-day arts festival. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Logan launch festival

More than 40 events will take place during the Logan Launch Festival, from noon to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Five highlights:

◆ “Inside the Playwright’s Studio: Charles Newell & David Auburn,” 3:30 p.m. Friday, Theater West, free.

◆ “Beware the Stairs Are Always Moving: A Conversation with Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien,” 6 p.m. Friday, Performance Hall, free.

◆ “Sonic Environments: The Work of Richard Lerman: Films for Screens, Performers and Audiences,” 7:30 p.m. Friday, Film Screening Room, free.

◆ Festival lunch, with Muntu Dance Theatre and New Beginnings Church Choir, noon, Courtyard and Gidwitz Lobby, free.

◆ Turtle Island Quartet, 3 p.m. Sunday, Performance Hall, $35 for adults and $5 for students.

For a complete schedule, visit or call (773) 702-2787.

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Updated: November 12, 2012 6:12AM

More than a decade ago, University of Chicago officials began contemplating a multifaceted new home for the arts that would also add to the campus’ already notable array of architecture.

They believe they have achieved both with the striking new $114 million Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts on the school’s southern edge along 60th Street.

Though parts of it were occupied beginning in March, the now fully completed facility opens formally this weekend with the Logan Launch Festival, incorporating more than 40 mostly free events.

“We’re really thrilled about the excitement it’s already generated both on campus and throughout the city and beyond,” said executive director Bill Michel. “It has also been incredibly beneficial in helping us raise the profile of the arts across the university.”

Along with bolstering the arts, the center, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects of New York, adds another landmark to the university’s architecturally rich campus. Just steps away on 60th Street are buildings by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen.

University architect Steve Wiesenthal said the school wanted a high-profile structure that would help lure people across the Midway Plaisance, a long, narrow park that divides the campus geographically — and more important — perceptually.

“It was crucial in the siting of this arts center and then in the selection of Tod and Billie to design it, that we create a real landmark destination on the south side of the Midway,” Wiesenthal said.

The 184,000-square-foot center houses classroom, exhibition, studio and rehearsal spaces, as well as a two small theaters, a 120-seat film screening room and a 474-seat concert hall.

It also has a cafe open seven days a week until 9 p.m., which serves students and faculty during the day and visiting arts patrons in the evening.

Michel believes the center will significantly boost the school’s arts curriculum by providing new, improved homes for the visual arts and theater departments, as well as additional space for music, film, digital media and other programs. Bringing together these departments into what he called a “mixing bowl for the arts” will spark new, sometimes unexpected, cross-genre collaborations — one of the university’s longtime goals.

The center’s array of public spaces also will be a boon to area arts audiences and to arts organizations. University of Chicago Presents, one of the city’s most important chamber music and jazz series, has moved more than half of its offerings — 12 of this season’s 22 — to the center’s concert hall.

Amy Iwano, the series’ executive director, praised the hall’s sophisticated acoustics, overseen by Kirkegaard Associates, a world-renowned consulting firm in the field. “Up to now, there has not been a chamber-music or recital hall of this size in Chicago with good acoustics for music,” she said. “It’s great not just for me but for all the other chamber-music organizations and ensembles in the city.”

The need for a new U. of C. arts center was first outlined in a 2001campus report titled “The Future of the Arts,” and the building was included in a $2 billion capital campaign announced the next year. The Logan family donated $35 million — one of the largest gifts in school history — toward the project in May 2007, and the groundbreaking took place three years later.

As part of an international architectural competition, a university selection committee invited 26 major architects to submit proposals. In 2007, the school selected Williams and Tsien from among five finalists.

The acclaimed duo has been responsible for an array of noted buildings, including the new site for the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia and the former home of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

The Logan Center consists of two principal elements: a low-slung, two-story horizontal base, which houses the three main performance spaces as well as skylit art studios and classrooms, and a lithe 10-story tower that contains everything else.

Tsien refers to the interlocking structures respectively as the “warehouse” and “castle.” The former is more obvious in its design and contains more rugged activities such as set design and art production that require loading docks and special ventilation.

The latter possesses an air of mystery, with its intermingling of varied spaces for different arts disciplines, unexpected nooks on each floor for study or conversation and surprises like the ninth-floor Performance Penthouse, a flexible, wood-lined room with spectacular views of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

“It is a kind of child’s idea of a castle, which is that you are discovering things all the time,” Tsien said. “It’s somewhat magical and changing.”

Although at first glance, the tower looks like a simple rectangular box, it is considerably more complex. Notches on two opposing corners give it a kind of subtle stair-step shape, and a cut-out terrace on the 10th floor dramatically breaks up the continuity of the vertical form.

The building is clad in white, variegated Missouri limestone. It has been laid like brick — a nod to Chicago’s architectural heritage — but each block is 4 inches tall and 4 feet long, giving the exterior an unconventional, contemporary look.

At the same time, there is a nuanced interplay of solids and voids, with the expanses of limestone asymmetrically punctuated with segmented banks of glass exposing the twin stairways and other strategically scattered windows.

The tower’s form, Tsien said, “is rather ordinary, but there is a lot of extra stuff that changes it and enriches something that is fairly simple in its shape and makes it extraordinary. I think the combination of the extra-ness and the ordinary is something that has come together in this building particularly.”

The interior has a functional, no-frills feel over all, but here, too, the architects have accented it with certain extras. They have, for example, decorated the main first-floor lobby with a brightly colored, patterned mural composed of textured, low-cost felt — a design motif repeated on each floor of the tower.

Although it contains obvious modernist elements, the Logan Center does not adhere to any set architectural style, and Williams said that is exactly the way the two architects wanted it.

“We want to make buildings well and make them feel like they’re 100-200-year buildings, that they’re made to last,” he said. “That’s why it is part of the fabric of this great campus. So, in that way, they need to be conservative.

“At the same time, we want to make sure they are of the moment, as state of the art as the users need them to be.”

Kyle MacMillan is a locally based free-lance writer.

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